Is Carpal Tunnel Curable?

Ask a Doctor

My doctor has diagnosed my with carpal tunnel syndrome. I hate the thought of going under the knife. How can I treat carpal tunnel without surgery? Is carpal tunnel curable?

Doctor’s Response

The prognosis for carpal tunnel syndrome is very good. Mild cases can respond to nonsurgical care, such as bracing and steroid injection. Advanced cases can be treated very effectively with surgery.

Home care for carpal tunnel syndrome is straightforward and can often provide relief for mild cases of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Wear a wrist splint (can be purchased at most drugstores) to keep the wrist in an optimal position at rest. Splinting is usually tried for a period of four to six weeks. Some people wear their splints at night only and others wear their splints both day and night, depending upon when the symptoms are at their worst. If no relief is found at four to six weeks, the splints are not likely to help.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is not primarily an inflammatory process. However, pain is a common complaint, and anti-inflammatory medications are sometimes used to try to treat the pain. Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) may provide some relief but are unlikely to cure carpal tunnel syndrome.

Direct injection of steroid medication by your doctor into the carpal canal has been shown to be an effective treatment for some people with carpal tunnel syndrome. This is a procedure that can be done in the doctor's office with only minimal discomfort.

Physical therapy can be particularly useful after carpal tunnel surgery. Therapy can reduce swelling, stiffness, and pain after surgery. Therapy can also help to restore strength after surgery. Not everyone needs therapy after surgery, but for some, it can be very helpful.

Avoiding smoking, maintaining an appropriate weight, and regularly exercising may help prevent the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Modification of workstations, keyboards, and tools has been attempted to try to prevent the development of carpal tunnel syndrome. Whether these ergonomic interventions help is unknown. Appropriate treatment of wrist arthritis, when present, can prevent or treat carpal tunnel syndrome.

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Fauci, A.S., and C.A. Langford. Harrison's Rheumatology New York: McGraw-Hill Medical Publishing, 2006.treatment-pdq>.